At one point in my career, I wanted — no, I needed — a pause. I wasn’t feeling inspired or able to inspire others and decided I needed to step away from work. The only problem was that my company didn’t have a practice or policy for the kind of a break I wished for:
- No sabbatical without being a professor or working in higher ed.
- No leave of absence without a documented medical condition.
- No maternity leave without having a baby.
- No extra-extended mental health day without a written policy or benefit for such a thing.
Basically, I would be breaking every single HR rule possible. And coming from an HR girl, this was not an easy thing to do.
I felt like I was breaking the law. I felt like I was betraying my team. I felt incapable because I couldn’t hack it. I felt selfish – why should I be allowed to do this? I was afraid I’d be a burden. I didn’t want to ask for help. Was my only recourse to quit?
Turns out no. My manager listened to me, provided support, and together, we came up with a plan to step away for an extended time — we called it a ‘wellness’ leave.
Steps To Take a Sabbatical — Even Without a Policy In Place
Today, many of my clients crave genuine time away (beyond the typical stingy 5 days of PTO), so I thought I’d capture a few of the key points that helped make my sabbatical — my wellness leave — happen even though there was no policy in place to support such a pause.
- First, a mindset shift: The approach that helped me get out of my own way and muster up the nerve to do this was placing myself in my manager’s shoes. What would I do if one of my key players told me they needed a break? Hands down, I would do whatever I could. I would break all the rules and make it happen. This mindset shift was a game-changer.
- Second, research: What organizations are providing sabbaticals or wellness leave benefits for their employees? How are they doing it? Is it successful? Are sabbaticals solely for those working in higher ed? What organizations in my industry are doing it? Did you know there are companies to help companies create sabbatical benefits for their employees? Yup, I was blown away by this! My research not only provided tactical info on how to approach this idea with my employer, but it also opened my eyes to realize how many others are likely feeling the same way I was feeling. Another data point to endorse my mindset shift.
- Third, craft a plan: Who, what, where, when, how. I thought through all the aspects of work that needed to continue while I was out AND ensured a practical plan was in place before my departure. Who will fill in? What work is the most important and must continue? What can wait until I return? Where will I store my information to ensure a seamless transition and everyone has access to what they need? When is the least disruptive time? How will I tell the team?
Ultimately, spending the time to craft a thorough plan allowed this wellness leave to happen — without even having a policy in place.
And the result of my wellness leave was noteworthy. This extended pause was undeniably one of the best things I could have done for my wellbeing — which inevitably extended to my family, friends, and colleagues upon my return to work.
My wellness leave was precisely 100 days. I distinctly recall this realization about halfway through my time away when my brain was unwinding itself, and I was finally feeling somewhat restored. So, I checked the calendar; how long did it take to unwire my brain and feel rested? Six weeks. And how much time did I have until I returned to work? Eight weeks. I literally counted each day — 100 days.
What I learned from 100 days away from work.
It’s OK to Take a Break.
Have you heard the term “corporate athletes?” The first time I heard this term, it piqued my interest. Check out this article from Harvard Business Review if it sparks curiosity. In a nutshell, “on the playing field or in the boardroom, high performance depends as much on how people renew and recover energy as on how they expend it, on how they manage their lives as much as on how they manage their work. When people feel strong and resilient—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—they perform better, with more passion, for longer. They win, their families win, and the corporations that employ them win.”
Working in corporate America takes resilience and dedication, not unlike an all-star athlete. All-star athletes typically do not compete 365 days a year; corporate athletes, on the other hand, are often expected to. It’s ok to take a break.
My Best, Most Creative Work.
My best, most creative work happens while I’m walking in the woods, or traveling, or cooking a nutritious meal. NOT when I’m standing (or sitting) at my computer. Trading the daily work routine for doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, ignited ingenuity I didn’t even know existed. While walking in the park, new ideas came quickly without effort. Energy poured into my day. So much so, at one point is had 137 new pages within my Notes app! I had so many thoughts to capture and couldn’t wait to act on!
Mindfulness and Being Present.
What a difference Thanksgiving dinner was when I had 100% of my mind on Thanksgiving dinner. Remaining present and relishing the time with the people who mean the most was surprisingly more enjoyable. My mind was in the moment, not wondering or anticipating the next day or week at work.
Recharging Opens New Space.
Before this sabbatical, meeting up with my friends or family, at times, seemed like a chore. Especially for an introvert – being “ON” all the time without a recovery period consumes a ton of energy. After a long day of work, the energy needed to interact with a friend often felt unbearable. I looked forward to meeting with my friends throughout the time away from work. I enjoyed the time even more, and unexpectedly + frequently initiated happy hours and hosted gatherings, which was nearly unheard of when immersed in my 9 to 5.
Re-Evaluating My Relationship With Time.
The greatest lesson from spending 100 days away from my day job was re-evaluating my relationship with time.
Throughout my corporate career, I constantly told myself, “I just have to get through this day” or, “once this month is over, I’ll be able to relax.” Wishing the days away was perfectly acceptable to me — and I thought that was normal. During my sabbatical, the opposite occurred. I didn’t want the days to end; the time flew by in a flurry. I quickly realized this was because my time was my time, on my own terms. I recall an article written by Chip Gains titled, “Every day is Saturday.” Specifically, noting that Saturday doesn’t follow a schedule or require a meeting after meeting along with endless expectations. It’s a beautifully spontaneous day.
More than anything, I craved this space in my daily routine. My relationship with time shifted so much so, I now have this quote by the late, great Muhammad Ali plastered around my workspace, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”